The country is a hidden treasure in South America. Arriving in the Montevideo airport, I could have guessed that the first half of my trip in Uruguay would be different from my second half in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, upon finding my hostel in the serene city, I realized that Uruguay was much different than any other South American country I’ve travelled to. So, what makes Uruguay unique?
Montevideo is the coastal capital city packed with approximately one third of Uruguay’s cool, calm and collected population (~3.4 million). As a disclaimer, I was told that much of the city was traveling due to their summer vacation. Nonetheless, I found the city to be incredibly safe and inhabited with kind and respectful people. You’ll hear substantially less catcalls here than other countries in South America. The neighborhood Ciudad Viejo is home to historical sites, government buildings and a large pier. It is arguably where the most buzz is in the city and, for that matter, the country. Artesian goods are sold on the streets and the smell of asado (similar to a BBQ or backyard grilling) fills the air. On the other side of the city in Pocitos you can walk alongside the ocean on the ramblas where the locals exercise and sit on the grass with their families and dogs. Overall, the city is peaceful, inviting and infused with beautiful culture and history.
Punta del Este
Sitting on a peninsula, Punta del Este is any beach lover’s picturesque vacation destination. Best known for its iconic hand in the sand and stunning sunsets, the tourism hotspot is filled with luxurious hotels and delicious restaurants. About 20 minutes away from the center of the city is Casapueblo, the late Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró’s home converted into a hotel and museum–a main attraction for tourists. While it may seem like the average beach city, I found something enamoring about its ambiance that made me never want to leave.
Colonia del Sacramento
Last, but not least, the historical Portuguese town. You can spend a day walking down the cobblestone streets, admiring the waterfront, old architecture and local shops. Colonia fully embodies Uruguay’s tranquility and leaves you feeling more at peace and more in love with the country than before. As I sat gazing toward Argentina watching the blood orange sun sink farther into the horizon, I found my mind drifting through the last 9 days, recalling the kindness of the people I met and realizing the enhanced beauty of the country because of them.
When it comes to beaches, cities or touristic sites, Uruguay is not different from any other country in South America. What it offers to its visitors is impalpable. It is sense of belonging, purpose, understanding and humility for your surroundings. It is engrained in Uruguayans and can only truly be understood by wholly and freely throwing yourself into their culture.
Uruguay reminded me that it is equally as important to see and hear your surroundings as it is to stop and absorb them. Traveling isn’t about the best Instagram post or detected location marker on Twitter. If we forget to turn off our phones, we forget to open our minds, consequently missing out on the way a person or place can make us feel and only capturing a still image that holds no sentiment whatsoever. More than anything, I remember how Uruguay made me feel, which is why I’m determined to put it on the map for more travelers. You’ll be missing out if you overlook the small patch of heaven hidden between Brazil and Argentina.
Stay tuned for more on Argentina!